Spartans Advance to NCAA Title Game

By: Michigan State University
By: Michigan State University

St. Louis, Mo - Michigan State scored four unanswered goals to rally from an early 2-0 deficit to post a 4-2 victory over Maine on Thursday in the NCAA semifinals in St. Louis, Mo. The Spartans now play for the third national championship in school history on Saturday evening at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Nick Sucharski potted the game-winner early in the third frame, after Chris Mueller and Chris Snavely scored in the opening and middle frame, respectively, to get MSU back into the game after watching the Black Bears stake a 2-0 lead just 3:24 into the game. Jeff Lerg made 29 saves, shutting out the Maine offense for the final 36 minutes of the game to record his 25th victory of the season.

The Black Bears jumped on the scoreboard just 23 seconds into the game. Josh Soares had the puck in the left corner and fed Keith Johnson with a nice pass on the doorstep, and he beat Jeff Lerg five-hole.

Soares potted Maine's second of the game three minutes later, of a shot from the hash marks which eluded Lerg high stick-side. He got the pass from blueliner Travis Ramsey and one-timed it past Lerg for his 20th goal of the season.

Mueller's tireless effort below the goal line led to cutting the lead in half at 7:25. Heavily defended behind the net to the right of Maine goalie Ben Bishop, Mueller tried to throw the puck in front for Bryan Lerg, and recollected the puck after it bounced off the leg of a defender. Mueller put his own shot on net that was saved by Bishop, but the rebound bounced out to the netminders right - and Mueller batted it out of midair into the back of the net to get the Spartans back into the game.

One of the top storylines - the potent Maine powerplay against the shutdown kill of the Spartans - got its first go-round midway throught he first when Tim Kennedy was whistled for cross-checking. Maine cycled well, got traffic in front of Jeff Lerg, and generated four shots, but Lerg was up to the task.

The MSU power play got its first work at 15:20 in the opening period, when Michel Levielle was whistled for tripping deep in the offensive zone. The Spartan power play - recently potent in its own right (8-for-32, 25.0 percent in six postseason games) got two shots on net, but Bishop made both - including on a one-timer by Tim Crowder early in the kill - to keep MSU from getting an equalizer.

Michigan State opened the middle frame with more than three minutes of a man advantage, as it carried over 1:22 from a first-period call against Soares and a slashing penalty whistled against Brent Shepheard. The Spartans generated chances (four shots on net), but the Maine kill weathered the storm and killed off the consecutive infractions.

The second period featured good chances at both ends, including a chance by Crowder on the doorstep with 13:00 elapsed in the period. Crowder was stationed at the top of the left side of the crease and put a soft shot on net, but Bishop was able to poke it harmlessly into the corner with the tip of his glove.

Snavely got the equalizing tally for Michigan State at 16:32 of the middle frame. The blueliner carried the puck up the right side with Justin Abdelkader. Snavely passed the puck off to the centerman as they crossed the blueline, but Abdelkader left a nice drop pass for Snavely at the top of the circle, and he fired a laser that beat Bishop stick-side over his blocker. This sent the teams into the second intermission deadlocked at two.

Maine had just its second power play opportunity of the night early in the third period, bt the Spartans held the Black Bears without a shot on the man advantage. Shortly after the penalty expired, the Spartans took their first lead of the night after an opportunistic goal by Nick Sucharski. Jay Sprague cycled the puck below the goal line, and put the pass into the crease for winger Matt Schepke on the doorstep. Schepke's offering was saved by Bishop, but the loose puck squirted out into the scrum of bodies. A crashing Sucharski lifted the puck through the bodies in front and past a sprawling Bishop for the Spartans' third straight goal of the game.

Jim McKenzie added an insurance tally to boost the MSU lead to 4-2 with just over ten minutes remaining in the game. McKenzie picked up the puck at the blue line and saucered it to Mueller at the left point. Mueller drove to the net, but his shot bounced off the shoulder of Bishop. The puck ricocheted off to the goalie's left - where McKenzie batted it out of midair for his 12th goal of the season.

The Black Bears pushed over the balance of the game, but could not generate another tally to climb back into the game. Bishop was pulled for the waning seconds, but finished his night with 29 stops.

The Spartans will look to add the program's third national championship, and first since 1986, on Saturday evening in a 7 p.m. ET game which will air live on ESPN.


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